mSpot offers streaming rentals of the latest movies, but can it compete with Netflix?


mSpot is trying to entice more consumers to join its Movies Club with new pricing: offering new releases for as low as $3 instead of the $3.99 typically charged by companies that offer streaming movies.

mSpot streams movies to smartphones and feature phones and early release movies to iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and more than 50 handsets.

Of course, when you talk about movies on demand (or over-the-top services, for that matter), Netflix comes to mind, and mSpot CEO Daren Tsui says that while mSpot doesn't compete directly with Netflix, it does offer some better deals.

"They provide a nice service and fairly cheap. From a value standpoint, it's hard to beat Netflix," he says. Netflix is trying to promote streaming and getting away from its "DVD in the mail" format, but mSpot, while not as well known, does get movies about the same time Amazon does, which is sooner than Netflix.

With mSpot, there's a monthly fee to join the movie club but you can build credits on a monthly basis, which you can use to redeem movie rentals. In addition, movies purchased via mSpot can be moved to other devices, so if you start watching a movie on a smartphone at the doctor's office, you can resume where you left off when you get home.

"We've always been good at the technology piece. Now with added cost savings ... this positions us well in the industry," Tsui says.

New releases on mSpot Movies are often available the day DVDs go on sale. Pricing ranges from $4.99 for basic monthly service offering up to four movies, all the way up to Premium, which is $15.99 a month for 80 movie credits or up to 16 movies. All mSpot Movies can be purchased a la carte, ranging from $1.99 to $3.99.

mSpot has been around for about six and a half years and launched its first full length movie streaming service with Sprint. That service has been improved and expanded to direct-to-consumer.

mSpot's roots are in mobile, and rather than being viewed as an OTT player that takes away from operators, it has worked with them. It has direct billing with the three major carriers. What carriers like about mSpot is it doesn't eat up a ton of bandwidth, Tsui says. (It's also being preloaded on some LTE handsets, but he couldn't reveal which ones due to NDAs.)

The mSpot movies can be viewed on TV, like through Google TV, but more work is being done in that arena to make it easier, including through the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA).

The general timeline for movies is they first go to airlines and hotels right after the theatrical release ends; then they're available on DVDs. Studios like the video on demand (VOD) model, which is where mSpot operates, because they have more say in the revenue share.

Here's a question Tsui get asked a lot: Is mSpot going to offer episodic TV shows? It costs a lot to license all those programs, and for now, it's sticking to movies. But if they ever do go down the series path, at least this reporter put in a request for FX's "Sons of Anarchy." Hey, crazy fans do what they can.

April 15, 2011